Well check "first Nosework trial" off of the first experiences list. Hint: we did not title, but we almost did.
Videos will be ordered at a later date, as well as photos. I come away from today wondering if I want to continue pursuing trialing in nosework. Perri did not show her best work today, but she did work very hard for me - even if her efforts would not be considered much or enough by some people. I was proud of her. I wasn't sure if I wanted to write a post on here tonight or not, but I'm going for it.
Since I start nosework, I have been fighting myself to have interest in it. Then I attended a mock trial as a volunteer in last fall and my passion for it renewed. I got to watch confident teams working and I enjoyed it. I started training Perri with as much frequency as she could tolerate. We tested on Anise and Clove and passed. When I saw today's trial, only 8 miles away from where I live, I submitted and entry in hopes of getting into the trial. NACSW trials are very difficult to get into, even NW1.
Today's temps were a sudden spike up to the 80s. I am told it reached nearly 90 degrees today and the humidity was outrageously high for April. Perri does not like doing anything but hiking and swimming in the heat. We have struggled with motivation all of her life and Nosework is no different.
We got there at 830. We left at 430. In NACSW Nosework your dog is either in her crate, searching or pottying. Nothing else. You may not leave the trial site. Your dog may not relax in your lap or next to your chair. And I do not like this, not at all. When I go to a trial I like my dog to chill in my lap, I like to leave the trial site for coffee and geocache searching, I like to take rambling walks with my dogs. Dog sports are on the most artificial side of what I do with my dogs, and asking them to stay crated for nearly eight solid hours without a break to stretch their legs for a nice walk other than a quick pee? I'm thinking it might not be my style. This is something I can't force.
We did Interiors first. This trial was at a summer camp, so we were searching a bunk house and it was small and cramped. Perri stressed down. She went out half searching and half greeting all those in the room (the judge, a videographer and a steward.) And then she stressed down and came and sat in front of me. We repeated this dance. I remember thinking, "We are going to actually NQ this because she won't keep searching." She just kept doing some searching and disengaging and looking at me. This is what is in my memory. And then she finally went over to a chair she had been at before, sniffed with interest before...and did her alert. 2.08 minutes.
Containers was next. Plain white boxes arranged in a circular fashion. This makes me feel relaxed, it is Perri's strongest element. Once again she struggled to remain focused on the containers, several times she left the search to go indulge in displacement behaviors, visiting people. She finished in 44 seconds and actually as I look over her score sheet, Perri got the "Pronounced" designation! "The judges may ‘Pronounce’ handler/dog teams demonstrating exceptional technique and/or teamwork"
And truly Perri was adorable - she nudged the hot box and then put both paws on it after I said alert. It was very cute and was my favorite search of the day!
Then we took an hour break. And the temperatures soared. And my EZ up flew away and tried to attack a group of people.
We headed to the wait area for Exteriors. I was feeling very nervous. Exteriors is Perri's weakest element, she hates the heat and here we had to go out in the blazing sun and search. I don't remember much about the search. I remember taking Perri up this wooden ramp and searching the side of the building. I remember the judge telling me a dog peed on the grass and to keep her away from that spot. I remember her sniffing an upside down utility bucket but not alerting. I remember hearing them call "thirty seconds" and I remember asking her to check the bucket one last time. She alerted and I called it and we passed Exteriors with 10 seconds to spare. I remember thinking, "Wow. We did it."
And then it all fell apart on Vehicles. She was attracted right away to a white truck. She was up and down the one side of it. I asked her to look at the other vehicle, but we kept coming back to the truck. I saw the judge and photographer all on one side of the truck so I really knew the hide had to be on the back of the truck or the side. Perri kept coming back to the back end of the wheel well of the rear tire. She was sniffing and sniffing but not alerting. I remember going around the back, I remember her avoiding the hitch because she fears the hitch and I remember her recoiling from the tail pipe. At 2 and a half minutes I had enough. Perri was so hot, so demotivated and she was trying and trying to search for me. I called alert where Perri had fringed on the wheel well, even though I was nearly 100 percent sure it was wrong. "No." said the judge. The hide was in the hitch, and Perri is afraid of hitches. With how hot and low she was, there was no chance Perri could have gotten that hide.
We were so close. And I can't believe how close we got, I can't believe how hard she worked. I am so grateful to Perri and so amazed.
Then we went to the awards ceremony. You are encouraged to go even if you don't title, since you might get a placement and besides that - the judges explain what the odor was doing in the hides. It is educational and sportsmanlike to go to the awards ceremony.
I couldn't believe how fast the times were on some of the dogs. The one judge then explained Containers and Exteriors, what the odor was doing near the bucket in Exteriors. How the odor was pooling on one side of the bucket due to the wind and heat and all sorts of interesting educational explanations. The second judge did not explain anything about Vehicles. It was what I was the most interested in hearing, I thought maybe the wind blew the scent from the hitch into the rear wheel well. He was a police officer and he explained to us how all of our dogs wilted in the heat, that we needed to train them to be more motivated and to want to search the vehicles more and that he knows they are pets and sleep in our beds and lick our plates but that if we teach them all of our "little tricks" we can teach this as a trick. Our dogs should not need to be asked multiple times to search, they should see just the sight of the vehicle as rewarding. It was....astounding.
It was very off putting for a brand new Nosework handler. I'll say it, I was offended. And then I went to find my record book and saw my record sheets. That judge wrote, "Make source more valuable" in my Interior hide and "Let your dog lead you to odor" on the vehicle hide. And I was even more offended. I'm not usually sensitive. But today maybe I was. Maybe I am allowed. And even from the other judge, on my Exterior hide I was told that "Your dog's nose was on source twice and your back was turned. Watch your dog." I cannot remember ever having my back to Perri if she was doing anything that resembled coming into odor and at source.
And as for the Interior and Vehicle elements? It is completely offensive, when I am in there struggling with a dog who doesn't even want to be there and is trying her best for me - to be told these things. If I did not encourage Perri and ask her to search more, she would shut down and not search at all. I know my dog. Perri is not easy, she has never been and likely never will be easy, but I love that dog and I know her.
It was mine and my dog's first trial. It was unseasonably and abruptly hot, and it was too hot for my dog. I would never enter Perri in a summer nosework trial because she does not do well in the heat. So I do not appreciate the absolutely critical attitude. At all. In agility, you do your run and if you mess up, which you do...a lot! It's over with. There's no spanking, no little report card with the judge's personal note about exactly how you messed up. You know you messed up and you try better next time. I don't consider this way of judges in Nosework to be constructive criticism, to me it comes off as rude. I noticed it in the mock trial too, but I thought it was a training exercise. The "judges" would tell people this or that that they did wrong, they would tell them "your dog found source but you didn't notice." (Never mind that their dog wasn't alerting as it usually did, as the handler expected the dog to do!) It seems like across the board, this is common behavior in Nosework - for the judges to write or say critical things towards you and your dog. It's just not my thing, it's not my style. I don't like being criticized by somebody who doesn't know me or my dog. Somebody who doesn't know how hard I worked just to get my dog to be able to do as well as she did today. Because for my Perri, she did amazing today. When in Interiors my Perri stressed and panted and struggled but still finally found source and I was proud of her, the judge only saw a dog who didn't find source to be valuable enough. When in Vehicles my dog was melting hot and didn't source at the hitch because she was afraid of it, the judge only saw me not letting my dog lead me to odor. As though it was so simple for me as holding onto the leash and letting my dog trot over there and show me.
I don't know if this is common treatment in NACSW or not. But maybe today was all too much of a culture shock for me: the long day, the dog barely allowed out of her crate, not being allowed to leave the trial site and the nit picking from the judges. It's just all too weird for me. I'm not saying there will be no more Nosework trials, but even if I had titled today I know I would have these feelings. Everyone likes something different, and I'm not sure I am cut out for the Nosework world. I have a lot of thinking to do.